The two teams have not met since 1997 when the tourists claimed an historic series victory over the then world champions thanks to a dramatic late drop goal from Jerry Guscott in the second game of a three-match series.
This weekend the Lions return to the scene of that famous triumph as they run out in front 52,000 fans at the ABSA Stadium in Durban, formerly known as King's Park.
A similar result to the 18-15 win at the same venue 12 years ago would be the perfect start for a Lions side who enter the series as substantial underdogs. The Lions arrived in South Africa on the back of successive series defeats against the All Blacks and the Wallabies, giving even greater importance to a first series victory in the 21st century.
The 3-0 whitewashing in New Zealand four years ago led to suggestions that the Test side had been selected on reputation rather than performance levels, yet 2009 head coach Ian McGeechan insists the current side has been selected purely on form in the six tour matches to date.
McGeechan gave each and every member of his tour party a chance to impress against provincial opposition in the lead up to Saturday's international and those who responded in the best possible manner now have the opportunity to challenge the world's best.
England, Ireland and Wales are represented in both the first-choice XV and the wider squad but there are no Scots in the matchday 22, with Mike Blair, Nathan Hines and Ross Ford missing out and Euan Murray's tour being brought to a premature end through an injury sustained last Tuesday against the Southern Kings.
The squad features a far more even spread of nationalities than the one selected for the opening international in New Zealand in 2005, however, with the Lions having selected six Welshmen, five Irishmen and four Englishmen in their starting XV.
That is in comparison to the eight Englishmen, four Welshmen and three Irishmen selected to start against the All Blacks in Christchurch when the Lions lost 21-3 to the world's in-form side.
Paul O'Connell skippers the Lions from the second row, as he looks to follow in the footsteps of fellow lock Martin Johnson who led the Lions to victory here 12 years ago.
O'Connell is joined in the second row by Alun-Wyn Jones, one of 10 players making their Test debut for the Lions.
The others are full back Lee Byrne and his Ospreys team-mates Tommy Bowe and Mike Phillips, Cardiff Blues centre Jamie Roberts and Harlequins wing Ugo Monye, back row trio Tom Croft, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip, and hooker Lee Mears.
Only O'Connell, Brian O'Driscoll, Stephen Jones, Gethin Jenkins and Phil Vickery have featured in a Lions Test match previously, boasting 16 Test appearances across six matches, of which only one has ended in victory.
O'Driscoll has the most Lions caps in the side with four, while O'Connell, Jones, Jenkins and Vickery all have three apiece.
Of the replacements, Donncha O'Callaghan, Martyn Williams and Ronan O'Gara have all featured in a Lions Test, while Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, Harry Ellis and Rob Kearney take the total number of possible Lions debutants to 14.
As for the Springboks, skipper John Smit and star wing Bryan Habana have both claimed they are a better side now than when they lifted the World Cup in Paris in 2007. With a further two years experience under their belts and the confidence to play a more expansive style of rugby, it is hard to argue with that assessment despite their third place finish in last year's Tri Nations.
Scrum-half Fourie du Preez is considered the world's best player by many, while Habana can lay claim to the title of the world's best finisher and Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield are rated as the best second row combination in international rugby.
Throw in the pace and power of No8 Pierre Spies, the battle-hardened qualities of Smit and the game understanding and line breaking abilities of inside centre Jean de Villiers and you have the spine of a very dangerous side.
Perhaps the most controversial selections within the Springbok line up centre around the inclusion of Ruan Pienaar at outside-half and Frans Steyn at full back, yet both are among the most talented ball players in the game. True, neither has enjoyed an overly successful season to date and doubts remain over the ideal positions for both men, but talent and attitude suggests the pair will be far from a weak link on Saturday afternoon.
The absence of all-action blindside Schalk Burger is a big blow for the Boks but Burger's calf injury gives a first Test chance to a ghost of Lions' Christmas past. Heinrich Brussow caused the tourists all sorts of problems at the breakdown for the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein a fortnight ago and the 22-year-old will be confident of having a similar impact on a far bigger stage.
South Africa have only played together once since their end of year tour to the UK and that was against an invitational XV and without their star studded Bulls contingent. Add in the fact that players from the Sharks, Stormers, Golden Lions and Cheetahs finished their Super 14 campaign back in mid-May, plus the stop-start effect injury has had on the likes of key performers such as Pienaar, de Villiers and Steyn, and the Lions clearly have grounds for optimism.
The flip side is that the world champions will be fresh and raring to go come kick-off on Saturday. Tiredness or burn out will not be an excuse for the Boks and neither will a lack of time together as a squad. Just as the Lions came together last month and travelled to South Africa on May 24, the entire Bok squad has been in training since early June, with most of the squad having been together since the week leading up to their victory over a Namibian Invitational XV on May 29.
You could talk for hours about the likely outcome of the opening Test but soon all the talk will be forgotten and only 80 minutes of rugby will fill the silence.
Saturday's game will not decide the three-match Test series, nor will it shape the future of later Lions tours, but it will play a part in both.
Defeat on Saturday leaves the Lions facing an uphill struggle in both respects. Victory in Durban breeds even more optimism and confidence and adds greater fire to the belief that the Lions can be the best of the best. Saturday is clearly judgement day in more ways than one.